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Italian plastics machinery industry positions itself for global growth.


[TABLES HAVE BEEN OMITTED] Italian manufacturers of plastics processing machinery are producing top-quality equipment. They exhibit a growing confidence that technological parity and expanded marketing will net increased sales penetration in world markets. he Italian plastics processing : machinery industry's last five : years have probably been the : brightest in its history. Sales and: try is a net exporter of plastic goods and processing machinery.

Some challenges are to increase international links, reduce high fixed costs, and protect markets in the face of anticipated environmental legislation.

The Italian plastics machinery industry consists mainly of 250 medium-sized and some large companies that employ about 13,000 people. Founded in 1960, ASSOCOMAPLAST, the Italian Plastics and Rubber Processing Machinery Manufacturers' Association, now represents 170 member companies, or about 75% of the processing machinery output and 70% of the total employees. Claudio Celata is the association's director.

The broader plastics processing industry (molders, etc.) comprises about 5000 companies and 115,000 employees. Last year the number of factories increased by 5.4% and the number of employees by 10,000.

In recent years, almost 20% of the plastics and rubber processing machinery installed throughout the world has been either manufactured or designed in Italy. At the end of 1989, sales reached some 25% of the total European market value and about 15% of the world's output.

Recent visits to some major machinery manufacturers provided some insights into industry capabilities:

* Sandretto, with injection molding machines ranging from 60 to 1300 ton toggle clamp and 1300 to 4500 ton hydraulic, generated sales of 1643 units in 1989. The company is focusing on its new Series 8 design, now available to 360 tons and planned to 1000 tons within three years. Sandretto's current emphasis in the U.S. market is mostly on customized machines. Angelo Muscarella, area manager, says that production in the U.S. is essential for success, and adds that while quality can be provided, it is difficult to compete with the Japanese on price.

In 1990, Italy absorbed 36% of Sandretto's production. Exports took 12%, and Sandretto subsidiaries absorbed 52%. Sixty-eight machines were sold in the U.S., compared with 49 in 1989 and 26 in 1988. The small size range represented 90.2% of the total output.

Sandretto's Quota 8000 ton twin-injection, vertical hydraulic machine is now installed for an Italian customer for molding very large (1450 x 1100 x 780 mm) polyethylene containers.

An impressive, highly modernized parts fabrication plant is based on flexible manufacturing and computer-integrated machining systems. The plant fabricates machine components supplied from an automated warehouse by guided vehicles running on magnetic tracks. One automated area produces parts for machines of up to 360 tons; another is equipped with machining centers and numerically controlled equipment for higher tonnages. A precise schedule automatically takes into account raw material stock levels and length of run on each machine.

* MIR, a manufacturer of injection molding machines between 45 and 2500 tons, had sales of $90 million for 580 units in 1989; 650 units were sold in 1990. About 50% are exported worldwide, with 60% of this total going to Europe. Seventy standard models have gone to the U.S. In line with general trends, MIR is targeting reduction in waste, improvement in quality and productivity, more flexibility of machine mixes, and cost improvement through its modular designs.

A new system for magnetic locking of clamping plates, for machines up to 500 tons, enhances quick mold changes. No additional clamping devices are required to fasten standard molds.

* OIMA manufactures an 850 ton toggle machine and a line of 65 to 850 metric ton Stratos hydraulics. For a dollar volume in 1990 of about $22 million, the company sold 156 machines, 51% in exports, largely between 140 and 300 tons. Sales of about 190 units are projected this year. Seven machines were sold in the U.S. in 1990. A standard triple modular pump system saves energy and reduces cooling needs. Edoardo Ughi, general manager, predicts total industry sales of about 1000 injection machines in Italy this year.

* Luigi Bandera, a manufacturer of extrusion lines and turnkey installations for a wide range of products, posts sales of $50 to $55 million per year, 50% to 60% in Italy. The rest is evenly divided between Europe and overseas, but very little currently goes to the U.S.

The company sells 30- to 300-mm single screw extruders; 45- to 170-mm co-rotating twin screws for thermoplastics; and counter-rotating units up to 170 mm for compounding PVC. About half the production is for blown film, with 50 to 60 complete lines being sold per year.

Bandera will introduce a range of 70to 110-mm conical twin screw extruders for profiles at the PLAST 91 Show in Milan this coming May. G. Boldoni, overseas sales manager, says the effort is to make the machines more flexible.

* LMP Impianti concentrates on foam extrusion, with annual sales of about $10 million. The standard line covers 16- to 180-mm twin screw co-rotating extruders. In the last seven years, about 90% of the company's output has been exported. Antonio Magala, managing director, says that some 50 foam lines, including extruder, feeding accessories, calibration equipment, cutoffs, and winders, have been sold in the U.S. since 1970.

The company is working on energy efficient twin screw foam systems for polypropylene and PET insulation of pipes requiring higher heat capability than polyethylene. Formulations are being researched to prevent excessive fluidity in the extruder during foaming.

MARIS generated $15 million in sales in 1990, about 80% abroad, for 47 corotating twin-screw extruders. Four compounding machines were sold in the U.S., making a total of 28 units in the last 13 years. Roberto Vettore, sales area manager, emphasizes the quality of the gear boxes and the fact that all machine parts, including spares, are internally produced.

Maris offers screw speeds to 150 rpm for thermally degrading materials, and 300 or 500 rpm speeds, which constitute 80% of the company's business. About 90% of the screw designs are two-lobed; three-lobed screws are available for high dispersion. Machine Output capacities can range from 3 kg to 2 tons/hr. 9 Founded in 1885, Comerio Ercole has, like many of the other Italian machinery plants, maintained its atmosphere of tradition as it has become immersed in modern technology. Rinaldo Comerio, the grandson of the founder and now at the helm, personifies the continuous line of family entrepreneurship.

Having started with textile machinery, Comerio Ercole is now, with annual sales of $40 to $50 million, one of the world's leading suppliers of precision machines and plants for calendering and mixing plastics and rubber; textile finishing and embroidery machines; and plants for nonwoven fabrics.

Exports take up about 80% of the company's output. In the last two years, Comerio Ercole has supplied 90% of the calenders sold in Europe, China, and the Middle East for producing rubberized textiles and steel cord. Some 5% of the total production went to the U.S.

A few years ago, plastics accounted for about 20% of Comerio Ercole's business. However, large orders for rubber calenders recently have dominated the company's production. Technology challenges mainly include computerization and improved integration of mechanics and controls in calendering lines to further increase precision of thickness tolerances.

Meccaniche Moderne, operating since 1870, generates about $30 million annually in sales of internal mixers, open mills, and complete mixing and calendering lines for plastics and rubber. In previous years, about 80% of the production was exported, but in 1990, most of the company's sales were in Italy. The disruptive events in Eastern Europe are cited as one factor in the precipitous drop in exports. Alberto Mereghetti, technical sales manager, also points to the resurgence in Italian sales as "possibly an indication that the Italian customers realized they need new equipment to be competitive." One of Meccaniche Moderne's selling features is the availability of special linings on its equipment to counteract corrosion and abrasion.

* OMV makes complete in-line turnkey thermoforming systems that produce $20 million in annual sales. Some 10% of the company's exports are to the U.S. and Canada. Since about 1984, the systems are sold in the U.S. through licensing to Cincinnati Milacron.

Specializing in thermoformed packaging, OMV claims an ability to thermoform polypropylene precisely at high speeds, at least one third faster than competitive machines." The machines can process up to three layers of the same material, including different colors.

* SIPA, a manufacturer of blow-molding machinery for food containers, offers the single stage, continuous flow ECS-24 machine for production of PET bottles at a very high rate. Produced in Italy under a license from Van Dorn Plastic Machinery Co., the machine has two operative sides fed by a single extruder. In the continuous process, four preform injection molds cycle into two blowmolds to produce 6000 1.5-liter bottles per hour. Ten high-speed machines were sold in 1990 for a total of $20 million. The company, which also produces the molds, projects sales of 15 units this year.

* Sorema, a 15-year-old company, specializes in turnkey recycling systems. Aldo Previero of the board of directors says the silo and flotation separation systems provide an edge in the recycling market that has built annual sales to $20 million. Two Sorema plants are scheduled for the U.S., one in Michigan by Johnson Controls for PET soft drink bottles, and the other in Texas by Rhino-X Industries, which will recycle film products. The Sorema systems have been almost totally exported, with sales exclusively to the private sector.

The Italian plastics processing industry exhibits a strong drive to be more competitive by improving design and manufacturing and assembly techniques.

The Eastern European countries loom strongly as future market areas for the Italians. As always, the U.S. beckons as a dynamic market. As one Italian machinery manufacturer puts it, however, "We just don't yet have sufficient sales forces and backup services in place to take advantage of the potential." But there is a definite sense that more of such an active presence is coming.
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Author:Wigotsky, Victor
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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